By Mark Hallum
City officials and family members immortalized fallen FDNY Firefighter William Tolley with a plaque dedication and a street co-naming Wednesday and remembered the day he fell from a five-story residential building while fighting a fire in Ridgewood in April 2017.
The 14-year veteran dedicated his life to the FDNY after serving as a volunteer firefighter during 9/11 and continued his commitment to saving lives by joining the department full-time and serving as a member of Ladder 135 Firehouse 286 in Glendale.
“Billy loved this job so much and he gave it his all. He loved everything about being a firefighter from helping people anyway that he could,” Tolley’s widow, Marie, said.
The street co-named for Tolley will be 66th Place between Myrtle and Cooper avenues adjacent to the firehouse.
The men of Ladder 135 remembered Tolley for his hard work making improvements around the firehouse and how they have struggled with their own grief.
“It truly was a horrific year, for yourselves, as for the firehouse,” Ladder 135 Captain Richard Blassi said. “But we came together as one family, we shared that pain and I believe sharing that pain is what gave us the will to endure it as it may never go. I always like to say together is the way forward, I truly believe that. Just know that we are always here for all of you.”
At the ceremony, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro described the way Tolley immersed himself in the life of a firefighter and how he treated the firehouse as his second home and fellow members of the department as his family.
“This firehouse lost its point-man, a reliable, strong veteran presence; a man younger members looked up to as a mentor and officers looked to as a leader,” Nigro said. “We all lost when Billy died last year because he lived and breathed being a New York City firefighter. He had a true passion for this job. It was his childhood dream and he fulfilled it to the absolute fullest. He loved knowing that his job made it possible to make a positive impact on others. He cared deeply for this firehouse and for all of you.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio paid respect to Tolley by speaking of his service during 9/11, an event which he said would have made many people turn away from the type of work that made the fallen firefighter more engaged in serving in the department.
“We are gathered here to perform a sacred task to write into the history books the name of William Tolley and to ensure that future generations of firefighters and members of this community will always see that name and be reminded of his greatness. It will cause everyone that moment of reflection on the measure of a man who could give his life for others,” de Blasio said before speaking to the family. “You’ve given us a sense through your actions of just how good Billy was, you’ve lived up to what I think he would have done if the situation was different.”
The two-alarm blaze that broke out on April 20 was caused by incense burning in a one-bedroom unit on the second floor, according to the FDNY. Tolley was attempting to access the roof from the engine’s ladder when he fell. He was transported to Wyckoff Hospital, where he was declared dead. He was 42.
Tolley left behind his wife and daughter, who was 8 years old at the time of the tragedy.
“William Tolley is the consummate firefighter who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Middle Village) said. “His name will forever be embodied on a plaque in Engine 286/Ladder 135 in Glendale, and on a street sign on 66th Place and Myrtle Avenue.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall